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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz


A Little Background     Openers     


    Modus Operandi     The Scorecard:     

Emotive Connection      Audio     Operations    Extras     The Movie     Equipment




Transsiberian [Blu-ray]


(Brad Anderson, 2008)






Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Filmax Entertainment & First Look Studios

Blu-ray: First Look Studios



Region: A

Runtime: 111 Min

Chapters: 12

Size: 25 GB

Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case

Release date: November 4th, 2008



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1



English 5.1 Dolby Digital & English Stereo



Feature: English SDH & Spanish



• Featurette: Making of Transsiberian (33:56)

• 4 Trailers in SD




The Film:

Every now and then, Siskel & Ebert would look at each other in some astonishment, wondering how they could have just watched the same movie. After seeing Transsiberian on Blu-ray last night I asked myself the same question in response to the remarks of two of the actors who lead off the Making-of documentary included as the extra feature. Regular readers of this column (all three of you!) will know how much I wince at movies whose characters and situations are "not what they seem." My question is: To whom? The audience? To themselves? To other characters?

It doesn't take much creativity to set up an expectation for the audience and then dash it to pieces in some juvenile attempt at irony. If everything points to the butler having done it, then what artistic purpose does it serve to have the mistress of the house be the murderer! I sat there, Siskel-like, thinking contrarily: everyone in this movie is exactly who they seem!

Consider Hitchcock's Rebecca or Vertigo, where the truth about Rebecca and Judy are learned by the Second Mrs de Winter and Scottie eventually. These truths are felt like twists initially, but not because we are fooled, but because the character is misdirected by his or her own expectations. When the truth is revealed we see clearly what was there all along, as do they. If not, then the script is in serious danger of being drivel.



It's been some while since I've watched a thriller where the characters reveal themselves to us and to themselves in equal proportions. Transsiberian comes close. As Emily Mortimer says insightfully of her character, Jessie, in the documentary [paraphrasing:] It can happen that the move from childhood to adulthood can be such that every choice we make feels like a loss. Ben Kingsley's character, Grinko, observes that fear can make a person do irrational things, and tells Jessie that "with lies, you can go ahead in the world, but you can never go back." The same is true for a script. If it lies, we can never find its truth, but if it takes time to reveal truths about its characters as they respond to situations, then what was so in the beginning will have simply become more complex by the end. It's not that people change all that much over time, but our knowledge of them – and they of themselves – deepens.

The Movie : 8
Written and directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist), the story takes place over several days along the Transsiberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow. Jessie (Emily Mortimer [Redbelt, Lars and the Real Girl]) and her husband Roy (Woody Harrelson) have just wound up a Christian retreat in China's capital. They decide to take the cross-country route so that Roy can indulge his love of trains. Emily is described as having something of a wild past and, even though married, is still testing the waters before making a commitment to settling down. They soon acquire cabinmates - another couple: Carlos (Eduardo Noriega [El Lobo]) and the much younger Abby (Kate Mara [Shooter, 24]). Carlos takes an immediate fancy to Jessie, who is neither blind nor immune to his charms. Not far in the background, the train and the stations they pass through are abuzz with stories and interrogations of drug smuggling and what the Russian police do to those who are caught. When the train departs Irkutsk, Jessie is aware that Roy is not on board; and after the next stop, Carlos has disappeared – or should I say: is disappeared. A new passenger begins to make his presence felt: the narcotics investigator, Grinko (Ben Kingsley). This is only the beginning of a roller coaster of a thriller that combines Hitchcockian elements of The Lady Vanishes (without the humor) and Silver Streak (without the humor or the romance) with Hostel (without the mindless sadism – note the adjective.)



Image: 7/8
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

The movie is shot in the winter snows, oftentimes on dreary days, making for a cool, somewhat destaurated color palette. Interiors are warmer, as if heated by wood stoves, even on the train. The image is, at all times, clear and without blemishes or problematic artifacts. Noise is hardly in evidence. Sharpness and resolution is very good, though not of demonstration quality. Compared to the DVD, obviously sourced from the same master, there is less noise, better delineation of edges and more information in the less well-focused background.

Bit rate is variable, mostly in the 20s with runs in the low 30s (depending on content). But is it really that much more expensive to employ dual layer discs and increase the bit rate accordingly? Might have picked up an uncompressed audio track along the way.
















Zoomed-in SD-DVD (CLICK to enlarge)



Zoomed-in Blu-ray (CLICK to enlarge)



Audio & Music: 7/8
Even though the surround track is generally engaged, it doesn't lend much more than space to the proceedings and, despite the title, the train sounds are not crunching enough. Despite there being no uncompressed audio mix – instead, First Look supplies a DD 2.0!- the dialogue is crisper than your average film these days – kudos there – and the generally meditative music is nicely balanced. A clean mix, minus some needed weight. I might add that these two audio tracks also appear on the DVD, but the differences between the two pairs are not identical.



Operations: 4
The menu appears after four promotional previews from First Look but, alas, for all their lack of content, they are clumsy to negotiate, with difficult to distinguish scene selection. Curiously, the menus on the SD are easier to negotiate, though not Smart Menus, are slower to access during the movie.



Extras: 4
The Extra Features for both the DVD and Blu-ray editions include the 34-minute Making-of documentary and a handful of trailers. It is unusual, though not without precedent, that the trailers are identical to the promos that appear on loading but, adding insult to injury, is that here they are all in standard definition. As for the Making-of piece, I was most interested in the question of locations. For a movie titled Transsiberian, I had some hopes that the exteriors might have been filmed in Siberia. No such luck, though the Lithuanian winter countryside serves well enough. The principals in the cast have their say about their characters, especially in terms of backstory and motivation. I found this part of less interest, though both Emily Mortimer and Ben Kingsley are perceptive and articulate. This was no surprise coming from Kingsley, but Ms. Mortimer was new to me, and I must say that I found both her performance and what I could see about the person to auger great things in the future. A nod from Oscar would not be out of the question. Sorry, no High-Def Extras.



Bottom line: 8
First seen at Sundance in January, 2008, the simultaneous release on DVD and Blu-ray November 4, marks the U.S. general public debut of Transsiberian. A suspenseful story – as much driven by character as plot – excellent performances all around, convincing production (especially for a low-budget film) and photography + a solid high definition transfer and clear audio make for a recommended purchase, despite the slight on the extra features.

Leonard Norwitz
October 29, 2008









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